For Kindness in Correction

May 22nd, 2009 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

“What is a mini-computer?,” asked my neighbor on the next plastic folding chair. “Is that like a Blackberry?”

Ah, the educated ignorant! Let us be kind to them in our responses, to earn the same from others who observe our own inscience.

In triple fairness, I note:

  1. She was probably 30 or so
  2. She is a lawyer
  3. She did not pull the lamest cover of I-wasn’t-born-yet

I have no doubt she must know many things I do not. That wouldn’t include much about the law. After J-school, writing for papers and magazines, and recently blogging legally related issues, I can likely walk lockstep with her there. However, she surely has areas of knowledge I do not.

Yet, I wondered how it could be that one could get a couple of college degrees and be raised in the Boston area without knowing such a fundamental economic and technological topic. I briefly discussed mainframe, mini and workstation technologies along with the huge impact DEC, Data General and such folk had for so long here.

We sat before the opening session of the Unitarian Universalist Urban Ministry annual meeting. The 140 or so of us are fairly bright and socially active folk. I would suppose that as a group, we read much more news than average. Thus, I wondered how she could have grown up without knowing of the fundamental drivers of the Massachusetts economic boom and cultural transformation when she was a tot. Did they not get newspapers, did she not read them, did they not discuss current events at the dinner table, or did she glaze over when business and technology were in the air?

The joy here is that among human shortcomings the easiest to overcome is ignorance. Except for the most advanced subjects, not knowing is far, far easier to correct than not being able to understand — the difference between ignorant and stupid. Share a little knowledge and everyone comes up to speed.

Amusingly though, some use knowledge as a weapon or as a test. While not exclusively reserved to the prep school/Ivy types, this is most common in those who have grown up hearing how brilliant and wonderful they are. Some of them love to correct others, even their peers. Each minutia can be a little badge on their sashes of superiority. It is obnoxious.

Life in general and conversation in particular are ever so much more pleasant without the self-righteousness and melodrama. No one needs to be shamed public because of not having learned some tidbit or not having learned it precisely in the form you did.

I hope my row mate has the chance soon to mention the wonders of the 1980s, when technological and economic marvels, mini-comuters, powered the glories of Route 128 and the Massachusetts Miracle.  She’s a UU. I’m sure she’ll spread the information gracefully and in the spirit of knowledge.

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